The focus so far this season for the Toronto Raptors has been on the impact of new coach Dwayne Casey and the internal development of the team's young core however; with the trade deadline just over two weeks away, the attention will now be turned towards the potential moves that Bryan Colangelo can make, and how they might affect the long term outlook of this team. The HQ's Scott Campsall examines the most crucial questions facing the Raptors' front office and their implications for this team moving forward.
The presence of Wilson Chandler at the Raptors' game on Wednesday and the subsequent speculation that followed served as a reminder for me that the March 15th trade deadline is coming up in a matter of weeks and the draft is only 4 months away, which is to say that that we are not too far away from a period of time potentially filled with trade talk and player movement.
With the way the season has been compressed, the influx of games in such a short period of time has made it difficult for teams to make moves, and the focus thus far this season has been on the actual games; but with just over two weeks until the trade deadline, you would have to expect that trade talk is about to heat up.
For the Raptors, there are two immediate questions that the front office is facing with regards to potential roster moves: are they going to trade Jose Calderon? And how are they going to solve the small forward problem?
The first question has gotten harder and harder to answer as the season has progressed. At the beginning of the year Jose was regarded as a possible amnesty candidate and player that wasn't good enough offensively to make up for his defensive shortcomings. However, things have certainly changed since then.
Calderon is now third the league with 8.9 assists per game and is playing like the Calderon of old, serving as the engine that drives the Raptor offense. His play of late has his trade value at an all time high, yet somewhat problematically, also has many questioning if he may be more valuable to the Raps as the point guard that guides the young Raptors' players through their development as the Dinos continue to rebuild.
Of course the alternative would involve moving Jose for some combination of young players and picks, which would help facilitate that rebuilding process. But then the question becomes: which of these two outcomes is more beneficial to the rebuilding process? Not exactly an easy question to answer at this stage in the game.
Calderon's salary of $9.7 Million is a tad robust, and a reason for this insistence that he must be moved. In the event that he is moved for a young player or a trade exception, the Raptors would have a great deal more of that cap flexibility Bryan Colangelo is always raving about.
Again, this is a double edged sword; if the Dinos elect to move Calderon for a trade exception and picks, attempting to replace what he brings to this team at the point guard spot will be no easy task, and a task that cannot be filled by anyone currently on the roster.
As you can see, this decision is not as easy as it may seem on paper and the Raptors braintrust might need to be a little more careful when attempting to deal Jose this time around, considering what happened last time they thought they had a deal in place.
The other question that the Raptors front office is going to have to deal with--who will play small forward for this team going forward--is one that has lingered all season long, and was brought to the forefront most recently by that aforementioned visit to the ACC by Wilson Chandler.
Thus far this season the coaching staff has attempted a number of different combinations in order to try and find an appropriate solution to the Dinos' deficiencies on the wing. This has been done with varying degrees of success; the Raptors began the season with Rasual Butler as the starting three, and I think we all know how that turned out. After Butler, Dwayne Casey then turned to James Johnson who was lackluster in his first stint as the starting small forward this season. The Raptors did find some success after moving James Johnson to the power forward position and sliding DeRozan down to that small forward spot, yet that doesn't seem to be effective enough to be considered in the long term plans.
In recent games the Raptors have been fluctuating between big and small lineups which sees the small forward spot being occupied by either James Johnson or DeMar DeRozan. Taking into consideration the fact that Andrea Bargnani will eventually return to the starting lineup, then you would have to imagine that James Johnson will be anchoring that small forward position--where he has been solid, but is better as a power forward--with the roster as it currently stands. This means that the Raptors will have to look elsewhere if they hope to find the wing player of the future.
With Wilson Chandler likely not an option for the Raptors at this point, they will probably be exploring other trade options throughout the league. Guys like Dorell Wright, Trevor Ariza, or Shawn Marion could be had for the right price however; by acquiring an upgrade at the wing spot at this juncture in the season, you run the risk of falling into that ever dangerous middle ground between really bad and mediocre which leaves the team with a subpar draft pick and thus elongates the rebuilding process.
The other problem with this option is that acquiring a wing player mid season could complicate the Raptors' draft options. If the Raptors were to end up with a top five pick in the upcoming draft, they are likely looking at either power forwards like Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson and Andre Drummond or small forwards like Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should they all declare. At this point in the rebuilding process it would be more beneficial for the Raptors to select one of these young small forwards, than trade for one that may be on the trade market, unless they can somehow grab an elite small forward which you have to admit, seems unlikely.
Whichever way you look at, Bryan Colangelo and his brain trust have a great deal to think about in the coming weeks heading into the March 15th trade deadline. The right move could set this team up for a great offseason and help them take the next step in the rebuilding process. The wrong move could set this team back significantly and leave fans to continue to search for that illusive light at the end of the tunnel.